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Salt River Schools Revises Student Policy to Include Transgender Students

In an effort to show that all students are safe and free from discrimination, Salt River Schools revised its student policy to include transgender students.

The Education Board voted 8-1 to approve the policy revision at a regularly scheduled board meeting on January 23. The revisions also included minor edits to the child custody and homeless student sections of the policy. The transgender student section was the lone new addition.

“As we have students in all those categories to support,” said Dawn Yazzie-Howard, chief of staff for Salt River Schools, to the board shortly before the vote, “the real vision, I think, and the need for these revisions, is so we can best support all of our students and create the most inclusive environment for our students during their student life.”

The revision comes less than a year after the Department of Education and Department of Justice, both under the Obama Administration, released a “Dear Colleague” letter with “significant guidance” stressing that Title IX includes gender identity. Title IX is a decades-old law that prohibits discrimination based on sex at any school receiving federal funds.

In a statement dated the same day as the letter (May 13, 2016), Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said, “There is no room in our schools for discrimination of any kind, including discrimination against transgender students on the basis of their sex. This guidance gives administrators, teachers and parents the tools they need to protect transgender students from peer harassment and to identify and address unjust school polices.”

Salt River Schools’ student policy that now includes transgender students potentially could be a first in Indian Country. What isn’t new is the prejudice that transgender Native Americans face.

Transgender Native Americans experience discrimination at a higher rate than the rate for transgender people of other races, according to a 2012 report by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey and National Center for Transgender Equality. According to the report, transgender student respondents reported alarming rates of physical assaults, sexual assaults and harassment so severe that it leads to dropping out of school. To see the report, visit www.thetaskforce.org.

In January, the Boy Scouts of America announced that it would accept transgender boys, reversing years of practice determining a child’s eligibility through the gender written on their birth certificate.

The DOE/DOJ letter and Mesa Public Schools’ policy for support of transgender students, among other policy guidelines in support, were shared with the board at a work session on January 10. At the January 23 meeting, board member Patricia Rush requested further discussion or another work session and more research from school staff before voting.

“Personally, I’d like to see more information and discussion regarding that section,” Rush said. “This section affects a few of our students, but I think we have to look at the overall population of our students—not only our students, but our Community and parents.”

The discussion lasted about 20 minutes, and most board members weighed in before voting. The motion for approval was made by board member Kim Anton and seconded by board member Elaina Osife. Rush was the only board member to vote against the policy revision.

The policy reads: “All students should have the opportunity to participate in Education Division activities in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on a student’s birth certificate.” The 71-page updated student policy is available on the school’s website and is easily accessible through the school’s new board docs program.

“I do support the level of detail in the policy,” Anton said before voting. “It leaves a bit of room for the administration to make the procedures. For right now, I think it’s on a level for us that it’s on a case-by-case basis. It allows education professionals to use their best judgment. It allows us to adjust to the best, [and] what we are all after is the best experience for the student.”

The education board meets twice a month, on the first and third Mondays. Because of the holiday schedule, the board met on the second and fourth Mondays in January.

To view the student policy and other materials related to Salt River Schools, visit www.srpmic-ed.org/boardabout.